According to Richard Engel, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, you would be “hard-pressed to find” one country with which the U.S. has improved its relations since President Obama took office. By contrast, you can easily find countries where Obama has made our relations worse.
Abe Greenwald finds plenty of such countries in just one region — the Middle East. Indeed, his article in the May edition of Commentary is called “He’s Made It Worse: Obama’s Middle East.”
Greenwald starts with Egypt, where it has been all downhill since Obama’s famous Cairo speech. In that speech, Obama staked out a reasonable position: the United States would support “governments that reflect the will of the people” provided these governments respect minority rights.
But in practice, says Greenwald, Obama abandoned the Bush administration’s policy of calling out Hosni Mubarak for practices inconsistent with “the will of the people.” We now know from leaked diplomatic cables that the administration believed Mubarak’s rule would endure. It thus cozied up to the dictator just as his legitimacy was crumbling.
Even after mass protests made it clear that Mubarak did not reflect the will of the people, the Obama administration continued to support him. Joe Biden denied that Mubarak was a dictator; Hillary Clinton described the dictator as a close family friend; Obama praised him as a valued American ally who, rather than stepping down, should begin the process of reform.
After a few days, Obama did an about face. But by then, he had lost credibility with the protesters, some of whom carried signs saying “Shame on Obama.”
The election of Mohamed Morsi presented Obama with his next challenge. The president responded by immediately declaring the Muslim Brotherhood man a legitimate democrat. In reality, Morsi was a theocratic authoritarian. As Greenwald reminds us, Morsi bypassed the judiciary, formulated an oppressive Islamist constitution, and publicly prayed for the destruction of the Jews.
It quickly became clear that Morsi neither reflected the will of Egyptians nor respected minority rights — the touchstones of Obama’s Cairo speech. Nonetheless, Obama continued to support him.
Obama did ask Morsi to hold new elections. At the same time, he called on the military not to launch a coup. Neither party listened to our weak, discredited president. In Greenwald’s words, Obama had managed to make an enemy of every party.
When the military took over, most Egyptians supported its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. Obama, though, punished Egypt by withholding substantial amounts of aid.
But then came another about face. In January, Obama reinstated the flow of aid to Egypt. It was too late, however. Egypt had already tilted away from America towards Saudi Arabia and, it seems, Russia.
To quote Greenwald again, in Egypt “rulers come and go; only American incoherence endures.”
Incoherence is the key. None of the decisions Obama faced in Egypt was easy. Mubarak was a valued ally, which renders understandable Obama’s reluctance to throw him overboard. Morsi, authoritarian though he was, won the election. The military takeover was a double-edge sword.
But Obama has botched every decision primarily due to incoherence. With the exception of his support for Morsi, the worst decision of them all, he has waffled at every turn. The principles of his Cairo speech might have provided direction. However, as we have seen, they were inoperative even as Obama was setting them forth.
Obama has lost the respect of every side in Egypt. And the U.S. finds itself on the brink of a position that seemed unthinkable when Obama took office — on the outside looking in.